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Mythological Moorings of the Apothecary Series

Apothecary's Curse Final Cover Art

The Apothecary’s Curse and Alchemy of Glass are genre-bending historical/urban fantasies with their hearts in Victorian literature, brain in present-day Chicago, soul in mythological tales and ballads of the British Isles.

The main character is Gaelan Erceldoune. So, who is Gaelan Erceldoune and why does he have such a strange name? Thanks for playing!

Gaelan is the descendant of a character out of British lore called Thomas the Rhymer (AKA True Thomas, AKA Lord Thomas Learmont de Ercildoune). Thomas has quite a story behind him. There is the legend and ballad, and there is the real person who lived during the thirteenth century in the Borders area of Scotland. He was said to have been a confederate of William Wallace during the war against the English.

Thomas’s descendent–the main character of The Apothecary’s Curse–Gaelan Erceldoune was born in the late sixteenth century, some three hundred years after Thomas lived.

Back in the 1970s, the British rock group Steeleye Span brought Thomas’s tale into the twentieth century. The original ballad has many variants, including this one:

True Thomas lay on Huntlie bank,
A ferlie he spied wi’ his ee,
And there he saw a lady bright,
Come riding down by the Eildon Tree.

Her shirt was o the grass-green silk,
Her mantle o the velvet fyne,
At ilka tett of her horse’s mane
Hang fifty siller bells and nine.

True Thomas, he pulld aff his cap,
And louted low down to his knee:
‘All hail, thou mighty Queen of Heaven!
For thy peer on earth I never did see.’

‘O no, O no, Thomas,’ she said,
‘That name does not belang to me;
I am but the queen of fair Elfland,
That am hither come to visit thee.

The legend tells that Thomas meets the Queen of Elfland and is quite smitten with her. As the ballad continues, Thomas is taken to Elfland to be the Queen’s consort for seven years, finally returned to his home. (The Eildon hills are in the Scottish Borders region.) Thomas’s gift for prophecy was said to be genuine, and several of his predictions came true. Some say that Thomas returned to his home as an immortal, akin to Merlin, and he dwells still beneath the hills at Eildon.

But what else might have Thomas receive during his adventure to the Otherworld? That is a question explored in The Apothecary’s Curse and further explored in the sequel.

Apothecary speculates about a people out of Celtic mythology called the Thuatha de Dannan. Most associated with Irish mythology, the Tuatha de Dannan were Celtic deities strongly associated with the medical and healing arts. Although they are mostly thought of as Irish fairy folk, some scholarly research actually suggests that the Tuatha de Dannan (who were also a real people!) came to Ireland through Scandinavia and through Scotland and then across the border to Ireland. The Tuatha de Dannan included the Celtic god of medicine Dian Cecht and his daughter, the goddess of healing Airmid. Research suggests that the Tuatha de Dannan were a highly advanced civilization, especially in the sciences and technology–well beyond the times in which they lived.

The legend and the reality of these fascinating folk, particularly the tension between Airmid and her father at a significant point in their history really intrigued me and I enjoyed playing with their mythology to create a fictional backstory for Gaelan’s amazing book of healing, inherited from Thomas.

Greek mythology (a bit less directly) also plays into the fabric of The Apothecary’s Curse, particularly the story of Ariadne, Theseus, Dionysus and the Minotaur. I can’t explain further without spoiling the plot, but the tale plays out in what I hope are interesting ways.

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Barbara Barnett

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